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Harvard HoCos Face Budget Cut as Undergrads Opt Out of Annual $200 Student Activities Fee

The Dean of Students Office is located in University Hall.
The Dean of Students Office is located in University Hall. By Frank S. Zhou
By Ella L. Jones and John N. Peña, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard College’s House Committees are searching for new ways to fundraise following a 5 percent decrease in annual funding from the Dean of Students Office, according to an October document obtained by The Crimson.

In total, House Committees received $204,250 for fiscal year 2024, per the DSO’s letter. A “confluence of factors” necessitated the funding cut, including “an increase in students opting out of paying the student activities fee and the normalization of the enrolled class size.”

The Student Activities Fee is an annual $200 cost paid by undergraduates, though they may opt out of paying the fee. It provides funding for HoCos, the Harvard Undergraduate Association, the Harvard College Events Board, and the Harvard Foundation Student Advisory Committee — a student group that advises the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations.

The DSO decreased budgets equally for all four groups, according to a Harvard College spokesperson, who added that there has been an increasing trend in students opting out — though fewer students opted out of the fee this school year than last.

HUA’s Co-Treasurer Corbin C. Lubianski ’24 wrote in an email that the SAF fund is $70,000 smaller this year than last.

The funding cut followed a proposal from the All House Committee — which represents all HoCo co-chairs — requesting a 15 percent budget increase to fund operations for fiscal year 2024.

Aurora M. Avallone ’24, a Kirkland House HoCo co-chair and the co-chair of the All House Committee, was involved with presenting the proposal for increased funding to the DSO. She described the budget cut as “sad,” adding that HoCos have already been operating under a tight budget.

“Last year it was very difficult. All of our House Committees felt a strain on our budgets — on our ability to be able to create as many events as students were asking for — and the sizes of events that students were asking for with the amount of money that we had,” she said.

Dunster HoCo Co-Chair Avi Gulati ’24 said funding cuts at a time when “prices increased everywhere else” have made planning this year’s House formal especially difficult.

“The prices of buses have gone up. The price at Royale has gone up since two years ago,” he said, referring to a nightclub in Boston that is often rented for formals. “It’s just not very reflective of the economic conditions around us when the College slashes part of our budget.”

Harvard spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo wrote in an emailed statement that DSO administrators “work closely to support student leaders, to understand what their hopes and goals are for their work, and to support their implementation.”

“We recognize that the increase in programming costs (including food, catering and event supplies) are part of the landscape in which we all are operating,” he wrote.

House Committees have turned to additional sources of revenue to pay for House events and activities, according to HoCo chairs. Currier HoCo Co-chair Samantha R. Vitale ’25 said the House is passing some costs onto residents by increasing formal ticket prices.

“Immediately when we sent out the pubs for Quad Formal, we heard backlash from people about the price being $30, and I honestly do not blame them,” she said. “It’s supposed to be an event that’s accessible to everyone. Everyone in the school is invited to this formal, and so we want to make sure that everyone can go.”

Avallone said Kirkland will expand on past fundraising efforts, such as its now annual Build-a-Boar event, a fundraiser where house members are invited to purchase and build a stuffed animal.

Keeling T. Baker ’24, a HoCo co-chair for Quincy House, said the House would start relying more heavily on alumni purchasing merchandise.

“Formal is going as usual, and merch sales — we’ve relied more on those this past year than we have had to before,” Baker said. “We really started reaching out to alumni and stuff like that and trying to make up some of the lost money from the Harvard side.”

But Baker said the House’s most successful fundraising has come from merchandise sales to parents — rather than alums — during family weekend.

Avallone said she believes students often dismiss the Student Activities Fee as another frivolous charge by Harvard, but they opt out because they do not understand where it goes or the role of their contribution.

“I think a big issue was that they didn’t understand where that money was going to and which groups were receiving that funding,” Avallone said, speaking about the student body. “Knowing that it is the only funding that your House Committee gets might make you think twice about how much you enjoyed that Stein or that formal and get you to opt in next round.”

—Staff writer Ella L. Jones can be reached at ella.jones@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @ejones8100.

—Staff writer John N. Peña can be reached at john.pena@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @john_pena7.

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